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Camping hygiene

The physical and mental health benefits of enjoying the great outdoors are well known and camping is a great way to get away from it all with your friends, family or on your own.

To make sure you enjoy all the benefits you should observe some basic hygiene practices when camping to avoid picking up or spreading infection from other people and animals.

Image courtesy of Lorne Gill/SNH

  • Pollution of water by human waste or cleaning cooking pans directly in water sources. This is not often a real problem if the water volume is high but is more serious in dry conditions and when using minor water sources. Avoid contaminating water sources by following our advice on going to the loo outdoors
  • Areas where livestock are concentrated and faecal matter is concentrated and more likely to leach into fresh water.
  • Birds and other animals moving infection from human waste and food scraps to fresh food and food containers, to plates or cooking pots.

  • Crowded campsites
  • Popular wild camping sites
  • Areas around bothies (unlocked mountain shelters)
  • Highland shooting estates' agricultural buildings
  • Roadside picnic areas – particularly where there is evidence of rubbish or other human waste being left.

Care should be taken when camping in areas around bothies and shooting estate buildings

  • Collect water from upstream of all habitation/camping sites and avoid drinking untreated water from farmland or ‘inbye’ land with intensive livestock around.
  • Collect from a source of running water with a reasonable volume or an obviously clear lochan fed by a running stream.
  • If in doubt, boil the water before drinking or use sterilising tablets, solutions or filters.
  • Don’t be casual about toilet functions – do it 50m away from water sources and camping/bothy areas to prevent contamination. See our advice on outdoor toileting for more information.
  • Care should be taken not to encourage rats, especially where these are living near livestock.

Note: Even the remotest parts of Scotland, you will attract mice to your tent. They will eat through a tent and rucksack to get to open food, so keep it securely hidden. However, mice do not carry the same infectious diseases as rats. 

  • Store food carefully and keep fresh food and stored water in covered containers.
  • Carry waste food out and dispose of at home. Dispose of waste water in a small pit cut out of the turf, well away from water sources. Cover the pit with the sod of turf after each use to keep flies off. 
  • Foods such as meat and eggs should be cooked well as they can go off quickly. Scramble eggs and cut sausages lengthways to ensure complete cooking.
  • Have a set of personal cutlery, bowls, plates and cups. Always ensure they are adequately cleaned and don't share them communally.
  • Clean cooking pans quickly after use so food scraps do not develop infectious germs as it is difficult to ensure they are removed after they have developed. Also food scraps attract flies, birds, rodents and other animals, which can act as vectors for disease.
  • Empty food containers should be washed out, crushed and stored in a sealed poly bag to take home for disposal.

Mountaineering Scotland campaigns on behalf of Scotland's hill walkers, climbers, mountaineers and ski tourers, with over 16,000 members from all walks of life.

Membership of Mountaineering Scotland supports the work we do, from campaigning and protecting mountain landscapes and access, to promoting skills, responsible access and self-reliance for those who visit Scotland's hills, crags and climbing walls. 

Membership is excellent value at less than £3 a month for adults, and includes public and civil liability insurance, a range of member discounts and offers, access to great value mountain skills courses, Scottish Mountaineer magazine and more. Read more about our membership benefits.

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